Hakeem Butler 6’ 6” 225 lbs WR Iowa State#18
Hakeem Butler is an impressive looking receiver with an alpha dog mentality. He and David Montgomery were the unquestioned offensive leaders of an upstart Iowa State team in 2018. Butler had 9 receiving TDs this year. More notably, he averaged 22 yards on his 60 receptions despite having a true freshman QB most of the year. He is a good kid who grew up fast in a poor neighborhood but not the way you might think.
Hakeem grew up in a poor section of Baltimore surrounded by drugs, crime and violence. He could play outside as a kid but had to run home as soon as the the streetlights came on. His father left when Hakeem was young. He barely remembers him and hasn’t spoken to him since he left. They lived in a one bedroom house for years with bunk beds to sleep on. His mom always put the children first, and the children always had enough food and even toys like other kids.
“Every day you’d see something new,” Hakeem said. “Drug addicts, drug dealers. Every day. For me, growing up, that’s just the way it was. I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what everybody saw. My mom kept us on the straight and narrow. She wasn’t about none of that nonsense. I thank her for it every day.”
Things got better when his mom got a job with the Postal Service. They soon moved into another house away from the drugs, and everyone had their own room.
Then disaster struck when Hakeem’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 13. Hakeem would do the shopping, help his siblings with homework, and even carry his mom up and down the stairs. He would take her to the doctors, cleaned the house and cooked for the four of them. He was dad, son and brother all rolled into one. His mom died in 2012. “Losing my mom,” Hakeem reflected, “that took my heart away from me for a long time.”
Hakeem and his siblings moved to Texas and lived with the family of his cousins Aaron and Andrew Harrison who became Kentucky basketball stars. They became like brothers to him and helped him in ways he couldn’t even imagine. You see, Hakeem was always a big kid, but he was awkward and needed to grow into his body. Playing basketball with his cousins helped him get coordinated, especially his footwork. Hakeem is very competitive, and playing against two cousins who were better than him in basketball made him work even harder.
He became a two sport star in high school, but his grades dropped since his mom’s death, Paul Rhodes, the head coach of Iowa State, was one of the few to offer him a scholarship. He redshirted his freshman year, but Rhodes got fired which threw a specter of doom on his scholarship.
He was still on the roster to start 2016 as Head coach Matt Campbell kept him on the team. In his first game as a Cyclone he made a one handed TD catch against Northern Iowa which put Iowa State ahead, although they eventually lost this game.
This single play would foreshadow some of Hakeem’s football strengths and weaknesses throughout his career. Hakeem is big and strong with the ability to make great catches. At the same time. he is not sudden or quick and takes a long while to get up to full speed. You can see here he cannot break away from man coverage, and only his length and hand-eye coordination allow him to make the play.
Even after this play he was not entrenched in Matt Campbell’s offense and had only 9 receptions for 134 yards and 2 TDs in 2016. In the same game the following year he kind of broke out with 7 receptions and a TD. He followed that up with 5 catches for 128 yards and 2 TDs against Iowa the next week. He still played second fiddle to Alan Lazard but he had begun to established himself as a go to receiver in 2017.
2018 was to be Hakeem’s year, but it started slowly with only 3 catches against Iowa for 35 yards. His time came the following week against Oklahoma. The smallest things can get a player going. This is a little hitch route for 12 yards and a first down.
You can equate it to basketball when your shot is not falling. You make one layup, and then every shot falls for you. Down 10 points to powerhouse Oklahoma, this play (against off coverage) gave Hakeem the confidence show his skillset.
After a field goal, this 52 yard highlight reel TD showed Hakeem he could compete with anyone and the confidence to believe in himself. You could almost see the confidence in himself grow after each missed tackle.
This is just a seam route that broke open. IOnce Hakeem got the ball he showed his strength and his incredible balance, especially for such a tall man. He kind of goes limp at contact (like many RBs do). It absorbs the hit and gives very little for the defender to hold onto. They slide off as if Hakeem is covered in oil. This play established Hakeem as the go to man for Iowa State, and the next play cemented it.
This is the same game, and now Iowa State is down 14 and in need of a play. This 57 yard TD on a back shoulder throw showed the team as well as the world Hakeem’s big play ability.
The defender is up in coverage but neglects to get a single hand on Hakeem, so Hakeem had a free release. You can also see that Hakeem is 22 yards downfield at the catch and has not gotten separation from his defender. He lets the ball into his body instead of catching it out in front of himself, but the defender is so overmatched he cannot make a play on the ball.
Once Hakeem got started, it was hard to keep him from making a play. His height and length make him an appealing target, and his competitiveness makes him catch passes that many receivers just could not handle. This again is from the same game, and he again has off coverage. This pass is a sideline throw with very little room against the boundary.
This is an exceptional play and a disturbing play all in one. This play shows nice footwork and a beautiful catch for a 1st down. It also shows a lack of inspired route running that follows Hakeem on many a pass play. Here he is starting in the slot, inside the numbers. He needs to learn how to give himself room on the sideline. If he had feigned a strong move inside then came back outside he would have much more room. Hakeem makes a slight move inside that fools no one. The QB had to throw the ball outside with the defender inside so the way Hakeem ran the route dictated where the throw would be made.
It may seem like I am nitpicking, but in the NFL the line is so thin to make plays; especially for a rookie who will struggle mightily against press coverage. It does not take away from the fact that Hakeem plays big against the best competition and had a huge day against Oklahoma with 5 receptions for 174 yards and 2 TDs. This day against this competition put Hakeem on the map as a legitimate NFL prospect.
With his confidence soaring, Hakeem now has the courage to do things he has never tried before. By doing so he broadens his skillset and gives the players around him the belief that he will make the play no matter the circumstance. This play is a fake bubble screen that Butler feigns a block and is left wide open.
He decides to try and leap over the safety but is sent airborne at the 3 yard line. He has enough gumption and body control to put the ball on the pylon before landing out of bounds. This was an outstanding play and a highlight reel effort. These types of savvy plays are the type that inspire better play from both sides of the ball.
You can see here from another angle that it was a conscious effort to put the ball on the pylon. I am not sure if his hand hits out of bounds before the ball touches the pylon, but the play was ruled a TD so the point is moot. This still is really nice body control from a 6’ 6” receiver.
This next play is an area that Butler needs to work on and may be difficult to fix through coaching. The problem is he doesn’t have quick feet and other than doing a huge amount of agility drills there is little you can do.
This is just a simple out route, but Hakeem does not fire off the ball. He still has to slow way down and kick his left foot out super wide to make a cut to the left. The corner from Akron reads this easily but is too short to make a play on the ball. Hakeem makes a nice catch, but he could not run this play in the NFL or you will have a pick six if the ball is thrown.
I wanted to show you a tall (6’ 4” WR) run a dig route correctly, but the majority don’t run a full route tree. Here is Jalen Hurd (6’ 5”) from Baylor run a route without extra steps and without slowing down.
If this was a true NFL option route, Hurd would have stuck his other foot in the ground and run an out route. He does a good job going full speed right at the CB and as soon as the CB opens up to the inside he should have gone outside. By running hard the CB has no idea what type of route Hurd is running. It’s not a great run route bu,t you get the idea of the difference between how Butler and Hurd ran their routes.
Back to the good as Texas Tech’s defense gives up a big play with just horrible defense. With 10 defenders within 10 yards of the ball this 48 yard TD is just pitch and catch. The QB stares down the receiver the entire way, but there is no safety around to read his eyes.
This bump and run press coverage, but Butler is much too big and physical for the smallish CB to handle. Once he gets beyond him all the QB has to do is throw it high and on target. Butler has real good skills at tracking the ball and can make this difficult catch look easy. The catch is running at full speed while turning back to the ball and catching the ball above his head without breaking stride. This is nicely done.
This play the defender is playing 12 yards off the ball in a futile attempt to stop a big play. It is futile because he lets the receiver run right by him so now he has his back to the play in catchup mode.
The ball is woefully under thrown, but the defender has no clue. Butler has to actually reach back over the defender to catch the ball. Again Bulter is far too physical for the CB to handle, and Butler muscles his way into a TD. This play shows some good long speed. good concentration, strength, and good hands on this 51 yard TD.
This next play is the type you would think would be a staple for Butler in the NFL. He does a poor job with his footwork, but Kansas State provides the perfect alignment to fix that. Butler is on an island with a defender who is a half a foot shorter than him with half the field to work with. A defensive coordinator should never allow this to happen.
With this much space to work with Butler should immediately attack the defender by racing right at him and cutting out or in, whichever is best. An NFL CB would not wait when Butler stops his feet and would press him as to kill the timing on the play. This has to be a quick throw, and if Butler is not able to escape the CB he will need to go elsewhere. You can’t slow play on the goal line. There is no time to get cute. In the middle of the field with a huge amount of acreage to throw to, it’s ok.
This next play shows how really bad Butler is trying to make cuts, He is running a simple out route, but he comes off the ball slow. Then he slows down. Then he needs about five steps to make the cut. You need to come off the ball fast with your shoulders over your knees and press the CB into thinking you are going to run by him up the seam.
If you stop the play as Butler is coming to his cut, you can see his shoulders are over his butt. This is Kansas State so it’s a catch, but in the NFL this would be a cue for the DB to attack the WR and break on the ball. This type of play would be read on film, and the DBs from the opposing team will be licking their chops waiting for a pick six opportunity.
This is Antoine Wesley of Texas Tech running a dig route. He has less room than Butler had and is in man coverage. He comes out hard. He puts his foot in the ground, and he makes an out cut. It’s not perfect, but he crosses the CB face and doesn’t fade the route.
I show you this to give you an idea on how a 5 to 7 yard in or out cut has to be made. You can’t take 5 steps. You can’t slow down, and you must come out hard. Some of this can be corrected with good coaching, but some is inherent to Butler. He doesn’t have quick feet.
This last clip is like many of these clips. It shows the good and the bad of Butler’s game. It is also against Kansas State who Butler should make a donation to with their poor coverages. On this play Butler is on the bottom of the screen and has a free release. Watch how hard he comes off the ball with authority. That is how he should run on the out routes. Anyway, he smartly attacks the DB and runs by him to the inside on an old fashioned post route.
The safety helps by being ridiculously late in his help. Like before, Butler catches the ball looking back above his shoulders without breaking stride. I can’t tell you how really good that is, because few receivers can do it without adjusting their body to the ball. He makes the catch, but he has ball security issues while trying to get extra yardage. The ball is in his left arm, and it is flailing out in the open. NFL DB’s will see that on tape and smack that ball out causing a fumble. Again coaching can help that, but you have to work really hard to change that habit.
So what have we learned about Hakeem Butler the WR?
- He tracks the ball very well and usually catches the ball with his hands away from his body.
- He is fairly elusive and has incredible balance for such a tall man.
- He is an alpha dog who expects to succeed and shows no fear of defenders.
- He has very good body control and excellent long speed.
- He is fantastic with contested catches, and he can make look back receptions without breaking stride.
- He is tall , strong and a very physical receiver who can muscle DB’s at will.
- He is a receiver who is open even when he is covered.
- He is a quality kid with good character.
- He is very poor in or out of breaks. He needs to come off the ball harder on breaking routes.
- He is not sudden and needs a long way to get up to top speed.
- He needs to work on ball security, keeping the ball close to his body.
- He needs to do a better job against press coverage and gaining separation.
I think Hakeem Butler is a good player with a great skillset, and I have a mid 4th round draft grade on him. He does some things so very well but other things not so well. Remember the NFL is a matchup league so you have to win one on one.
Butler is the protege of Alan Lazard at Iowa State who is also a big reciever (6’ 5”) and ran 4.55 at the Combine, a time Hakeem Butler may have a hard time beating. Lazard went undrafted and signed with Jacksonville as a UDFA. Even with Jacksonville’s poor receiving corps he was waived and signed by Green Bay to their practice squad.
Butler is a difficult player for the average fan to grade as a prospect because he makes so many spectacular plays, but those plays are few and far between in the NFL. I think Butler can be a productive receiver in the NFL but will need an opportunity to show what he can do. Those opportunities are hard to come by for non 1st round selections. He is a good kid. I wish him well, but he may find a cool market for his services.
What do you think?